The Essential CRM Guide

Call Center Support and CRM Data  Integration
Call  Center Support: This article is an excerpt from our free CRM Essentials e-book series.

Updated October 2022

What is it? Call center support for the uninitiated

Most people associate call centers with large organizations, such as financial institutions, utility suppliers, and airlines. However, this is not always the case and a small company can also have a call center. What is going to determine whether you do or don’t have a call center is going to be the type of product or service you provide and how you want your customers to see you. A call center could be a product advice line, a help desk, a customer care center or any combination of these.

If you do have or want a call center, you have a choice of in-house or outsourced. We will not discuss this choice here or offer any guidance; but you should know that different options are available.

Why call center support is important for you

If you do not have a call center and are not planning on having one, this is not an important feature for you. However, if you do have one, how good is it? Does your call center staff have access to all the relevant data pertaining to any given customer? How quickly does the system respond during peak periods?

If a call center is important for your business, you should look closely at what sort of integration you will get between your CRM system and your existing or planned call center. Near the top of the list of important functions is ease of use – both for call center staff and customers. For example, when a customer phones in to your call center, any data that the customer is required to provide during the call screening process must be passed to the relevant call center operator. There is nothing that says more loudly that you do not care about customers than a call center which repeatedly asks for customer authentication during the same call.

In other words, by the time the call center operator takes the call, all the customer data should already be on the operator’s screen. Of course, this should include previous call history, but it should also include purchase history, type of customer, salesperson responsible for the initial contact, if any, and the customers’ preferred form of address. What we mean by this is that there should be something to say whether the customer should be addressed in a formal or informal manner. For example, if it is formal, then address them by their title; if it is informal, there should be a use name specified. If the use name is Jim, by all means call them Jim, but if the use name is James do not, under any circumstances, call them Jim, Jimbo, or Jamie. That assumes a familiarity that customers might find offensive.

Data Integration

What is it? Data integration for the uninitiated

Data integration refers to the ability to bring together the information used by different systems or different aspects of one system. If the information you have about your customers all sits in different places, it becomes impossible to get a 360 degree view of the customer without interrogating multiple systems. If you are able to bring all the relevant data together to form a complete picture, and maintain the picture so that it is always up to date, you will have managed to integrate your data.

Why data integration is important for you

You probably have a number of different business systems, all with important data. This includes:

  • an email system with names and addresses
  • a contact management system with names and addresses
  • an accounting system with names, addresses, and invoice details
  • maybe an e-commerce shopping cart program with online order details.

The result is that while you may have access to all the important data about any particular customer, you need a process of exporting multiple files to a complex spreadsheet to try and pull it all together. This is what Clate Mask and Scott Martineau call ‘multiple system chaos’.

“Why have an email marketing system? So you can send emails, right? But who do you send them to? To the people in your contact database, of course. How do you know if the people in your contact management system want the emails? You need to know their communication history. How do you know if the people in your contact management database responded to the email and made a purchase? By looking at your shopping cart.

Without a centralized database that holds all of this important customer information, you’re stuck … between multiple systems. That’s multiple system chaos!” (Mask and Martineau, 2010.)

Some salespeople will tell a client almost anything they want to hear to close a deal. Both of us have, at some point, found ourselves in a position where we were sitting with a client to do a system implementation and the client said, ‘but the salesperson said your system could do this!’

So, be warned. Be wary of a CRM system that promises to integrate all your customer data. It comes down to your being able to ask specific questions. For example, when a vendor’s salesperson says the CRM system can be fully integrated with your existing data, ask them a question along the lines of:

You: Tell me specifically, and without jargon, how the CRM system integrates with my existing systems?

Salesperson: It’s easy. All you do is flag the records to be updated and hit the ‘process’ key.

You: Tell me what’s involved in setting it up initially.

Salesperson: Well, that’s not really something I get involved in, you’d have to ask one of the technical people.

Now you know that it is not as simple and straightforward as you were being led to believe. Let’s look at another way to approach the same statement, simply to illustrate that there is more than one way to arrive at the same level of clarity.

Salesperson: Our system is fully integrated and can easily work with your existing data

You: Are there any problems you are aware of with the integration between the CRM system and my accounting package?

Salesperson: No, none at all.

You: OK, so the data integration has no limitations or unresolved issues that you know of.

Salesperson: No issues with our system, but there was this one client … and the problem was all to do with their staff/data/hardware/remote location …

You: Will you give it to me in writing that you have not personally had any feedback about issues or problems with integrating customer data?

Salesperson: Well, it isn’t company policy to give prospects written warranties …

If the conversation runs on anything like these lines, you could be taking on a big headache. If the salesperson tells you, in all sincerity, that there are no problems, we suggest you take it a step further. Don’t just take their word for it, ask them to show you how it will be integrated. Insist that showing you the specifics of how the CRM system will integrate with your existing systems must be included in the system demo – and that this is a potential deal breaker. Forester Research, Inc. is clear about this:

“The struggle to integrate customer data continues. The volume of inquiries that Forrester receives about customer data integration (CDI) continues to increase. Customer management professionals tell us that poor data management is one of the biggest barriers to getting value from their CRM systems. But the right approach to customer data management remains elusive. (Forrester Research, Inc. 2010)”